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Books

Two Poems on Dark Days and Hope From the Pen of Chandrashekhar Azad

The freedom fighter is primarily remembered for the fight he put up against the British, and not his literary pursuits. Reproduced here are the first-ever English translations of two little-known poems penned by the revolutionary.

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The Indian revolutionary movement, in its struggle against the mighty and oppressive British empire, churned out a rich number of poems and couplets expressing its dreams, desires and hopes for a future independent Indian nation. When we imagine the revolutionary movement through the lens of literary production, we remember the likes of Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan and Bhagat Singh, whose poems, couplets and slogans also became an integral part of the post-colonial peoples’ struggle in India.

The name of Chandrashekhar Azad does not figure in this list and he is primarily remembered as a gun-trotting, moustache-twisting person who fought the British till his last breath.

There is a pearl of unwritten wisdom in academic research that deep research often throws up surprises. And we indeed were surprised when in the course of our research on the Indian revolutionary movement, we stumbled upon a biography of Chandrashekhar Azad that contained two poems penned down by none other than Azad himself.

Published in June/July in 1931 in Varanasi and edited by Baldev Prasad Sharma, this book titled, Chandrasekhar Azad Ki Jivani was probably the first biography of Chandrashekhar Azad written after his martyrdom on February 27, 1931. The British government immediately banned the book and confiscated it.

Today, this book lies in the proscribed section of the National Archives of India.

That Chandrashekhar Azad wrote poems should not surprise us considering the fact that his compatriots consisted of accomplished poets like Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqulla Khan, and lovers of poetry like Bhagat Singh, Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Batukeshwarr Dutt, and Bhagwan Das Mahore. How powerful this force of poetry-inducing habitus was can be grasped from the fact that it once compelled Rajguru to try his hand at poetry, though the fruit of that exercise angered Bhagat Singh who gave his pistol to Rajguru and asked him to either shoot him or never write again.

Reproduced below are first-ever English translations of those two poems eating dust on the shelves of history. Both these poems give us a glimpse of Azad’s revolutionary mind; a glimpse of revolutionaries’ self-understanding and their dreams; hints at how they understood their struggle and sacrifice in the larger schema of the freedom struggle and derived meaning from it.

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Poem 1

He is the true martyr and the grace of the world,
Who lays down his life on battleground for his homeland,
Only his name remains and shines bright,
Whose death brings tears to every eye;
Wake up now, oh youth! From the total obliviousness,
For only he is ‘Azad’ whose arms have the strength;
The only message this soul has for the world, now,
‘My life is too little a price to pay if it feeds the poor’.

Poem 2

We will show you the might of a complaining sigh,
For, these chains of ‘Azad’ could never be voiceless;
Who dares to say that my blood will go in vain,
When the dead ones build a world anew;
How to fight the battles for the homeland,
How to lay down the life for the homeland;
I came to the world to tell you this only,
Be happy, O my countrymen! Time to go, Vande Mataram!

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These two poems apart from expressing the emotions and self-understanding of Azad are also meant to inspire the readers, especially the youth to join the revolutionary movement. Azad, like his other comrades, understands his role in the freedom movement as one of setting an example for the youth to follow. These poems attack pessimism and promise eternal glory for those who fight for their homeland.

The last line of the first poem – “My life is too little a price to pay if it feeds the poor” – shows how Azad saw his fight. For him, the purpose of his struggle, apart from expelling the British from Indian soil, was also to provide food to the poor. This clearly shows his socialist inclinations. In fact, the line, in its Hindi version – ‘Gareeb ko mile roti to meri jaan sasti hai’ – has been a part of the socialist movement in India for a long time.

“In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing, about the dark times.”

These lines of Bertolt Brecht perfectly capture the mood of Azad as well as of poetry penned by other revolutionaries who were indeed living through a dark period where the chances of being captured and killed were very high. It was a time when Indians were not allowed to dream; a period when the judiciary was a pawn in hands of the rulers and there was no hope for justice; a period when Indians were not allowed to speak and express their opinions freely; a period when Indians had to fight even for basic human dignity.

When Azad and other of his comrades hoped that their deaths would serve to inspire the masses, they were writing about such a dark and pessimistic time when only blood sacrifice could instil in the masses a spirit to fight against injustice and oppression. At the same time, they were also giving meaning to their own lives or, more aptly, to their impending death through poetry.

These two small poems from the pen of Azad sing about those dark days and at the same time provoke us to dream about a more humane and just future.

Poems translated by Avinash Chaudhary, a research scholar at JNU.